A Chicken’s Life Can Be That Way

A Chicken’s Life Can Be That Way“So what is that you’ve done there?” I asked Pearl as she was rearranging some sticks and pebbles and leaves in a cleared out area in the chicken run.

I had brought some of my unfinished drawings outside with hopes of getting inspiration. Some of them were just not coming together.

“Oh, nothing really,” she said.

“Whatever you do is never nothing.”

Pearl seemed glad to have sparked my curiosity. “I thought I might help you with the book.”

“How do you mean?”

“Look more closely.”

And so I did.

“I only see some twigs and pebbles and leaves and a few little feathers.”

Pearl added one more twig to the collection she had gathered, and suddenly an image formed.

It was a chicken, a happy chicken! I couldn’t really call it a drawing, and I couldn’t really call it a sculpture.

“Pearl, it’s beautiful, it’s perfect, and it’s so much like something you would do!”

She just smiled up at me.

“I’ve always known you were a collector, but I never knew you could do anything like this!”

“I thought you might need some help with the illustrations.”

She moved a few of the twigs and pebbles, and there was suddenly a completely different chicken pose. Then she added an azalea blossom, and suddenly there was a dancing chicken wearing a tutu made from the flower.

So I sat and just watched as she kept moving and rearranging and creating new images.

“I started making these last summer. When you were teaching Emily to draw.”

“I had no idea.”

“I taught myself how to do this, how to draw like this,” she said. I could not tell whether she had felt left out last summer, but it was likely she did. “I guess I have always gone my own way.”

“That was when you were getting over Blanche leaving us, wasn’t it?”

“May I show you something else?”

Pearl had not answered my question or waited for me to answer hers.

She went up to the darkest corner of her nesting box where I would have never thought to look. One by one, she brought out bits of torn paper and gift wrap she had collected when the trash truck came by on Tuesdays.

Each held a drawing made with the simplest of tools. These were her real drawings, ones on scraps of paper. She had used feathers shaped into pens, soft twigs frayed and turned into brushes, inks made from charred wood and milkweed sap, smudges of mud, and even what looked like the last of some bottles of white correction fluid and fingernail polish.

“Pearl, I had no idea.”

I sat next to her to examine them more closely.

“May I touch them? I will be careful. I want to spread them out so I can see them better.”

“Yes, that would be fine.”

“I don’t want to damage them.”

“You won’t. I trust you.”

I picked each one up as carefully as I had picked up Pearl when she was just a baby chick. As I spread them out in front of us, Pearl hopped up into my lap and whispered so only I would hear, “They are the story of my life.”

There was her life. Had I ever been so introspective? It takes a great deal of courage to look at one’s entire life laid out like cards, tiny snapshots of who we are. But Pearl had done it, and each of these was an expressive masterpiece.

“Most of these are full of light and hope,” I said.

“A chicken’s life can be that way.”

“But some of them are very dark and scary.”

“A chicken’s life can be that way too,” she said as only one who has known dark and scary can say.

We sat there looking at her artwork together. There were times I wanted to ask a question, but chose to stay quiet. I felt the drawings would speak for themselves, and if there was something they did not say, then maybe it was not important to know after all.

I placed one of my own unfinished drawings under one of hers.

“May I use some of these for our book, your book? Some of the chapters have things that only you experienced. Like this one with the opossum. I haven’t known how to draw those things because I wasn’t there.”

“I was there.”

“I know you were. And you lived to tell about it.”

“And draw it too.”

“You did.”

Life must create and create anew. With whatever it can find. Even useless throwaways. Pearl may have once thought about her own life that way. But no longer. Perhaps Life specializes in turning what others reject into priceless beautiful things, if not on the outside, then certainly on the inside.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

Remembering Blanche And All That Really Needs To Be Said

Dedication Page

Today, April 21st, is our day to remember Blanche who told us “Farewell” in her own way on this day last year when it was Easter Sunday. This post is mostly at Pearl’s request, and it features the illustration from the dedication page of our next book which is about Blanche and Pearl and The Bottle Cap Lady. The book is dedicated to Blanche, who will always be Pearl’s best friend ever.

The illustration style is one that Pearl likes best. It uses drawings made on pieces of torn scraps of paper she collected over time. This is not the easiest for me to do, but it is Pearl’s story, and so she gets the final approval whenever possible. I do like the idea of rescuing things thrown away like this scrap of paper and then turning them into something beautiful. That is what happens in this story to more than just the things blown out of the trash truck each Tuesday and then collected by Pearl.

She has also been considering a change in the title to The Bottle Cap Lady with the subtitle Or How To Explain Christmas To Chickens. But there is still plenty of time to decide.

Here is an excerpt Pearl asked me to share with you today as we remember Blanche together.

The only words I ever recall Blanche telling me directly were “Thank you.”

She said this to me on one of her last nights with us when I took her in for a warm bath and was drying her off. There was no one else around to hear her, only me. She nodded after she said those words, and I held her closer still. She had not been able to get up to the coop by herself that Good Friday night.

She would talk to me when the others were talking to me, all in a group. But we never really had a heart to heart conversation.

I’m unsure why that was. Perhaps she felt it was helping to protect Pearl in some way. Not that she was afraid I would hurt her or Pearl, just that it was safer if the others always thought they were my favorites rather than the two of them.

I suppose sometimes “Thank you” is really all that needs to be said. But we really need to listen carefully when someone tells us “Thank you.” Sometimes what they really may be saying is “Farewell.”

from “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens”

We appreciate you for remembering Blanche with us and look forward to sharing this full story with you soon.

Pearl and John and also Gracie, Bessie, Emily, and Amelia

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated! 

My Life With Gracie…Only For A Season

Only For A Season

Emily hopped unexpectedly into my lap. I was setting some pavers and bricks for a new garden path. Everyone else was pecking and scratching in their backyard playground, but Emily had slipped through a small gap in the fencing.

“I remember the first time you slipped through that little gap. None of the others know it is there.”

“Yes, sometimes there really are advantages to being the smallest,” Emily said.

“But you didn’t go off hunting for worms like the others would have done.”

“What was I doing instead?” she asked, even though she already knew what I would say.

“You were walking down one of the garden paths just looking at all of the beautiful flowers around you.”

“And why wasn’t I looking for bugs first?”

“Because, just like you told me, the bugs will always be there, but the flowers are with us only for a season.”

Emily smiled her happiest smile. Her love for the garden was something connecting us.

This was the beginning of what has come to resemble an old family story, one Emily and I tell to each other. It is the kind of story that gets told and retold, the kind that anyone outside the family might not completely understand, but we did. It is a story Emily loved to hear again and again, and one I never want to forget.

“I will always remember how you walked in the garden that day.”

“Can you draw me like that? Like how I was walking?” she asked as she had done so many times before.

“I have tried time and time again, but I can’t quite get it right. Still, it’s a picture in my heart, and perhaps that is the best kind of picture to have, one that can’t fade or become old and wrinkled.”

“And how was I walking?” she asked.

“In a way slowly to take it all in, and yet in a way quickly so as not to miss anything.”

“How can someone walk quickly and slowly both at the same time?” she asked. This was a new question she had decided to add to our story, and it delighted me.

“I am not sure. But you did. Beauty does that, especially when enjoyed by a heart like yours.”

“Beauty must be able to suspend time,” she mused. “But why do you suddenly look so sad?”

“Because when I was drawing a picture of your coop and some of the iris flowers, I realized how much the chicken wire fencing obscures their beauty from your view. You don’t get to walk through the garden as often as you’d like. I’m sure.”

“But when I do, I enjoy every minute of it. Do you know what I might like best about the iris blossoms? They have those yellow parts that look like big fuzzy caterpillars. You call them ‘beards’ but they look like ‘bugs’ to a chicken. I imagine if we were to eat one, it would tickle all the way down to my tummy.”

I imagined this tickling sensation with her, and we giggled.

“But I don’t hate the fencing or the chicken wire. They keep me safe.”

“They also keep you from seeing everything clearly.”

“Have you ever noticed how when you come home we are usually sitting close to the fence? Do you know why we do that?”

“I just always figured it was because you were eager for me to get home.”

“For some afternoon fruit? Well, maybe, but that is not the real reason. When we sit away from the fence, all we see is the fence. But when we sit close to the fence, we do not see the fence, just what is on the other side of the fence. We feel safe, but we also see the beauty.”

I felt there must be a lesson in what she had just told me, but I couldn’t ponder it just then. My mind was still trying to comprehend what she had said about beauty being able to suspend time. This is certainly not an idea that would occur to most chickens and certainly not to me on my own.

“Maybe you’d like to draw and paint some iris blossoms while we wait for them to bloom later this spring.”

“I would like that. With a picture, I can enjoy them all year round. They really are very easy to make. Just a chicken foot, three hearts one way, three hearts the other way, and three fuzzy caterpillars. It can’t get much easier.”

“Maybe you can teach me? It sounds like a very chicken way of looking at things.”

“It is,” she said. “But can we walk through the garden first though? Just you and me?”

“That would be beautiful,” I said, still feeling there was a lesson here with more chicken wisdom to help bring life into sharper focus. “You know, Emily, there is a very famous poem beginning with the words ‘she walks in beauty.’ It was written many years ago by someone named Lord Byron. He lived in England, and they have very beautiful gardens there. You walk in beauty, Emily.”

She either wasn’t sure what to say or hadn’t really heard me. So I just watched her walk on ahead.

She had all she needed, including a strong trust in the goodness of the world and everything in it. She just kept putting one foot in front of the other and believing.

Yes, surely there was a lesson or two for me to learn, and perhaps I would ask Gracie about all of this later. But for the moment, I thought it best to follow Emily through the meandering garden pathways and simply enjoy the beauty I saw in her heart.

Like the flowers she loves so much, her heart would be with me only for a season.

You can download a free photo of Emily’s drawing titled “Flowers And Worms” here and perhaps use it as a screensaver or desktop background. It may help to remind you to look for beauty, even in difficult times.

And if we are really lucky, I may be able to convince Emily to give us a lesson on how to draw and paint iris blossoms like she does. “Just a chicken foot, three hearts one way, three hearts the other way, and three fuzzy caterpillars.” Hopefully it will be as easy as she has promised!

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!